Going to Traffic School? Here's What to Expect
By Dan Rafter
Heading to traffic school to keep your insurance premium from rising? Paul Trowe can tell you what to expect: boredom, and plenty of it.
Trowe, the chief executive officer of Austin, Texas-based video game company Replay Games, has attended traffic school or defensive driving both in person and online to keep a series of speeding tickets from boosting his insurance bills. Going to traffic court did keep the points from his violations off his driving record, and this did keep his car-insurance payments from increasing.
This doesn’t mean, though, that Trowe enjoyed his time in traffic school. Trowe described traffic school as “sitting through six hours of hearing the teacher lecture and watching mind-numbing videos.”
Most drivers who attend traffic school are like Trowe: They sign up for classes, either in person or, if they are eligible, online, to keep points off their driving record. No one considers going to traffic school to be a fun experience, even if attending classes will ultimately save them money in the form of lower insurance bills.
But what about you? If you’re headed to traffic school, what can you expect? Besides the boredom, that is?
Basics of defensive driving
Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a lawyer and commentator in Washington, D.C., went to traffic school earlier this year after pleading guilty to making an illegal u-turn. Like Trowe, she signed up for school to keep her insurance rates from soaring.
LeBon actually went to traffic school twice: First, she attended an eight-hour course on the basics of safe driving, attending traffic school for two separate four-hour sessions. She also took a four-hour reckless-driving course. All of the coursework was completed in a classroom, and none of it required any time behind the wheel of a car.
“That second course was not required. I took it on my own as a show of good faith,” LeBon said. “I wanted to show the judge that I was trying to be a more conscientious driver.”
LeBon said that traffic school was worthwhile, if not exciting. In the basic defensive driving course, instructors focused on teaching the rules of the road that you learned when first getting your license as a teen, everything from how far drivers should behind the cars in front of them to when they need to follow the lower speed limits posted in school zones. The instructor took breaks from lecturing to show videos and take questions from attendees.
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The class ended with a final exam that all participants had to take and pass.
More states now allow motorists to take traffic school online. Trowe said that if given the choice, drivers should go this route. It’s simply less boring than sitting in a classroom all day, Trowe said.
The online class that Trowe attended ran for six hours, with each Web page of the course coming with its own timer to make sure that participants didn’t just click through without actually reading the material.
The online course was broken into six sections, dealing with such issues as how to merge properly when entering a highway, how to drive properly when moving through construction zones and the dangers of distracted driving. Each section ended with a quiz.
Trowe, though, said that even the least studious should be able to pass these quizzes.
“The quiz is so easy, you could just guess all the correct answers if you wanted to,” Trowe said.
Jordan Perch, a blogger at automotive Web site DMV.com, said that attendees shouldn’t be surprised by the boredom. Traffic school is designed to provide motorists with a refresher on the rules of the road, not for entertainment.
“Classes are typically not very pleasant or exciting,” Perch said.
Why go to traffic school?
So, why should you willingly sign up for a four- to eight-hour course? Perch says that it’s all about keeping those points off your driving record.
“Attending traffic school can be of great benefit in terms of avoiding financial losses further down the road, as well as avoiding a license suspension,” Perch said.
It’s no suprise to learn that speeding violations, or even a failure to stop at a stop sign, can cause your insurance rates to increase. Insurance companies will check your driving record and any blemishes can end up costing you.
Usually, though, those costs — at least the first ones — can be mitigated by attending traffic school.
Perch said, too, that by keeping points off the driving records of motorists, traffic school makes it less likely that drivers will have their licenses suspended, something that could happen if drivers rack up too many points in too short of a time.
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Not all violators, though, are eligible for traffic school. In California, you aren’t eligible if you’ve attended traffic school for another ticket issued within 18 months of the date of your new ticket. You can’t attend if you are convicted of driving more than 25 mph over the posted speed limit.
You also can’t attend if you are convicted of a violation that counts for more than one point on your record. Such violations include driving with a suspended license, failing to stop at an accident scene, speeding in excess of 100 miles an hour and reckless driving.
Traffic school won’t help your pocketbook, either. You’ll still have to pay the fine associated with your ticket. You’ll also have to pay for attending traffic school. In California, state-required driving school costs $64.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on July 28, 2016.